In linguistics, a possessive affix is a suffix or prefix attached to a noun to indicate it is possessor, much in the manner of possessive adjectives. Possessive suffixes are found in some Austronesian, Uralic, Altaic, Semitic, and Indo-European languages. Complicated systems are found in the Uralic languages; for example, Nenets has 27 (3×3×3) different types of forms distinguish the possessor (first, second, third person), the number of possessors (singular, dual, plural) and the number of objects (singular, dual, plural). This allows Nenets speakers to express the phrase "many houses of us two" in one word. Mayan languages and Nahuan languages also have possessive prefixes.
Possessive suffixes in various languages
Finnish is one language that uses possessive suffixes. The number of possessors and their person can be distinguished for the singular and plural, except for the third person. However, the construction hides the number of possessed objects when the singular objects are in nominative or genitive case and plural objects in nominative case; käteni may mean either "my hand" (subject or direct object), "of my hand" (genitive) or "my hands" (subject or direct object). For example, the following are the forms of talo (house), declined to show possession:
|person||number||Finnish word||English phrase|
|second-person||singular||talosi||your (sing.) house(s)|
|plural||talonne||your (pl.) house(s)|
The grammatical cases are not affected by the possessive suffix, except for the accusative case (-n or unmarked), which is left unmarked by anything but the possessive suffix. The third-person suffix is used only if the possessor is the subject. For example, Mari maalasi talonsa "Mari painted her house", cf. the use of the genitive case in Toni maalasi Marin talon "Toni painted Mari's house". (The -n on the word talon is the accusative case homophonic to the genitive case.)
For emphasis or clarification, the possessor can be given outside the word as well, using the genitive case. In this case, the possessive suffix remains. For example, my house can be taloni or minun taloni, where minun is the genitive form of the first-person singular pronoun.
Omission of the possessive suffix makes it possible to distinguish the plural for the possessed objects, although this is not considered proper language; e.g. mun käsi "my hand" vs. mun kädet "my hands". Systematic omission of possessive suffixes is found in spoken Finnish, wherever a pronoun in the genitive is used. However, this is found only in direct address, e.g. "Their coats are dry" is Niiden takit on kuivia (niiden lit. "they's"). Contrast this with indirect possession, as in "They took their coats", where the possessive suffix is used: Ne otti takkinsa. Even in proper Finnish, the pronouns sen and niiden, (which are the demonstrative as well as inanimate forms of hänen and heidän,) do not impose possessive suffixes except indirectly – it would be hypercorrect to ever say niiden talonsa. There is also a distinction in meaning in the third person depending on whether or not the third person possessive pronoun is used:
- He ottivat (omat) takkinsa. = "They took their (own) coats." (The possessor cannot be mentioned, even for emphasis, when it the same as the subject.)
- He ottivat heidän takkinsa. = "They took their (others') coats." (When a third person pronoun is mentioned as the possessor, it must refer to someone other than the subject of the sentence.)
Hungarian is another Uralic language, distantly related to Finnish. It follows approximately the same rules as given above for Finnish, except that it has no genitive case. So, to say (for example), "Maria's house," one would say Mária háza (where háza means "her/his/its house").
Arabic, a Semitic language, uses personal suffixes, also classified as enclitic pronouns, for the genitive and accusative cases of the personal pronouns. The genitive and accusative forms are identical, except for the 1st person singular, which is -ī in genitive and -nī in accusative case. They can be used with nouns, expressing possession, with prepositions, which require the genitive case, or with verbs, expressing the object. Examples for personal suffixes expressing possession, using the word بيت bayt(u) (house) as a base:
|1st person||بيتي baytī my house||–||بيتنا baytunā our house|
|2nd person (masc.)||بيتك baytuka your house||بيتكما baytukumā your (du.) house||بيتكم baytukum your house|
|2nd person (fem.)||بيتك baytuki your house||بيتكن baytukunna your house|
|3rd person (masc.)||بيته baytuhu his house||بيتهما baytuhumā their (du.) house||بيتهم baytuhum their house|
|3rd person (fem.)||بيتها baytuhā her house||بيتهن baytuhunna their house|
In Hebrew, a Northwest Semitic language, possessive suffixes are optional; they are more common in formal, archaic, or poetic language, and they are also more common on certain nouns than on others. For instance, our home can be written ביתנו (beiteinu). However, the following are some different ways to express possession, using the word bayit (house) as a base:
- my house: beiti (house-my), ha-bayit sheli (the-house of-me)
- your (masc., sing.) house: beitkha (house-your), ha-bayit shelkha (the-house of-you)
- Adam's house: beit Adam (house-of Adam), beito shel Adam (house-his of Adam), ha-bayit shel Adam (the-house of Adam)
In Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, a modern Aramaic language, possessive pronouns are suffixes that are attached to the end of nouns to express possession similar to the English pronouns my, your, his, her, etc, which reflects the gender and plurality of the person or persons.
|1st person||bĕtī (my house)||bĕtan (our house)|
|2nd person (masc.)||bĕtūkh (your house)||bĕtōkhun (your house)|
|2nd person (fem.)||bĕtakh (your house)||bĕtōkhun (your house)|
|3rd person (masc.)||bĕtū (his house)||betĕh (their house)|
|3rd person (fem.)||bĕtō (her house)||bĕtĕh (their house)|
Although possessive suffixes are more convenient and common, they can be optional for some people and seldom used, especially among those with the Tyari and Barwari dialects. The following are the alternative ways to express possession, using the word "bĕtā" (house) as a base:
- my house: bĕtā it dēyi ("house of mine")
- your (masc., sing.) house: bĕtā it dēyūkh ("house of yours")
- your (fem., sing.) house: bĕtā it dēyakh
- your (plural) house: bĕtā it dēyōkhūn ("house of yours")
- 3rd person (masc., sing.): bĕtā it dēyū ("house of his")
- 3rd person (fem., sing.): bĕtā it dēyō ("house of hers")
- 3rd person (plural): bĕtā it dēyĕh ("house of theirs")
|1st person singular||-am|
|2nd person singular||-at|
|3rd person singular||-aš|
|1st person plural||-emân|
|2nd person plural||-etân|
|3rd person plural||-ešân|
e.g. pedar-am my father; barâdar-aš his/her brother
|(Ayt Ayache)||(Ayt Seghrouchen)|
- -inw is used when the noun ends in a consonant
Independent possessives are formed by attaching the possessive suffixes to /wi-/ (if the object possessed is masculine) or /ti-/' (for feminine), e.g. /winw/ ('mine').
|1st person||evim||my house||evimiz||our house|
|2nd person||evin||your house||eviniz||your house|
|3rd person||evi||his/her house||evleri||their house|
In the Malay language (Bahasa Melayu), the following suffixes can be added to nouns to indicate possession.
|1st person||negaraku (contraction of negara aku)||my country|
|2nd person||negaramu (contraction of negara kamu)||your country|
|3rd person||negaranya||his/her country|
Not all pronouns are added in this way; most are written as separate words. For example, your country can also be written as negara anda or negara engkau, and our country as negara kita (if the reader is included) or negara kami (if the reader is excluded).
- Zwicky, Arnold M. "Clitics and Particles." Language 61.2 (1985): 283-305. Print.
- Abdel-Massih, Ernest T. (1971). A Reference Grammar of Tamazight. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. pp. 35–40, 46, 77–80.
- ^ (in Finnish) Johanna Laakso. Uralilaiset kansat. Tietoa suomen sukukielistä ja niiden puhujista. WSOY 1991.